Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bharatiya Janata Party needs to shed its negativism

The passing of Brajesh Mishra, the all-powerful aide of National Democratic Alliance Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the 1998- 2004 period on the day that the BJP national executive meeting concluded in Surajkund, Haryana, was a coincidence.
Mishra retired from an active role in public life, along with Vajpayee, in the wake of the election defeat of 2004.
But the intersection of the two events at this time serves to highlight the gap between the BJP of today, and the one that ruled the country then. 

Pictured from left to right, Prem Kumar Dhumal, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Murli Manohar Joshi, LK Advani, Nitin Gadkari and Arun Jaitley during the party's National Council Meeting at Surajkund, Faridabad

This gap is important, because within it lies the answer to the conundrum-will they, or won't they.
Will the BJP and the NDA be able to capitalise on the travails of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, win the general election scheduled for 2014, and come to power again at the head of the Union government?

Mishra with his hats as the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and National Security Adviser ramrodded the policies of the NDA government, whether they related to economic reform or national security.
He, and to a great extent his boss, represented the realist strain of Indian politics.
Their policy prescriptions were shaped by a relentless pursuit of national interest. Issues such as the Ram Mandir, the removal of Article 370 from the Constitution and the need for a uniform civil code-an otherwise laudable measure but for the Sangh Parivar a manifestation of its antipathy for Muslims-were ignored.
Their skill was manifest in their graduated handling of Pakistan. In February 1999, they offered Islamabad the hand of friendship in Lahore.
Confronted by Kargil, they used a combination of military force and diplomacy with such subtlety that Pakistan has more or less lost its international case on Kashmir.
But instead of rubbing its nose on the ground, they offered a hand of friendship again in Agra in 2002, which paid off in the January 2004 agreement that has been the basis of the India-Pakistan peace process since then.
While Nehruvian idealism as practised by Pandit Nehru and his heirs Indira, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi contains a great deal of pragmatism, and even ruthless realism, its default mode has been an idealism. In contrast, Mishra and Vajpayee were, in a sense not ideological.
True, Vajpayee was a swayamsevak, indeed, the senior-most member of the RSS, but it is also a fact that throughout his term as prime minister he gave short shrift to the Sangh and its parivar.
As for Mishra, he may have begun his political life as a member of the BJP's foreign affairs cell, but his dharma was to faithfully carry out his boss's policies, many of which were never clearly articulated and had to be understood intuitively.
And those policies shifted the Indian paradigm decisively. Pokhran and its momentous consequences, the Golden Quadrilateral, deregulation of the oil sector, the fiscal responsibility act, opening up of the telecommunications sector, peace moves towards Pakistan and for resolution of the border dispute with China, all had their roots in the NDA government.
It is this era of realism, pragmatism and achievement that the current BJP, which leads the much battered NDA, must strive to reach.
And anyone who witnessed the national executive meeting of the party and its outcome last week will agree, that it will take some doing.
Its tone and tenor were evident from its principal 'achievement'-approving a change of rules to enable Nitin Gadkari to become president for a second consecutive term.
Had Gadkari's first term been outstanding, this measure would be understandable. But it has not been so, and the only conclusion that we can arrive at is that the party's leadership issue remains unresolved.
Of course, there is the other subtext of this decision. Gadkari, a businessman and a Maharashtra-state politician, became president of the party over the wishes of its senior leadership pushed by the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) following L K Advani's eclipse in the wake of the Jinnah controversy.

While the resolutions adopted were standard fare, what was surprising was the rhetoric. Moving the resolution on economic affairs, Arun Jaitley attacked the Congress reforms as being influenced by the West.
But for generalities, neither Jaitley, nor Gadkari or other party leaders outlined just what reforms the BJP would offer were it to come to power.
Strangely, instead of telling us what reforms his party would undertake in India, Jaitley outlined a set of reforms he wanted the western countries to undertake.
In the process, it has opposed everything that the Congress has proposed, regardless of whether or not these measures had been backed by the BJP in the past.
It is not as though the BJP has gone back to its Hindutva roots. The three issues it had set aside at the time of forming the NDA-Ram Mandir, Article 370 and uniform civil code-remain firmly off the agenda, even now.

Not surprisingly, the one voice of reason that stuck out was that of L K Advani.
Notwithstanding his own past weaknesses and opportunistic behaviour, the grand old man of the party was clearly in a didactic mood when he told the concluding session of the national executive meet that perhaps the time had come for the party to reinvent itself once again.
In essence, he said that the party needed to reassure the minorities (read Muslims) 'that we brook no discrimination or injustice in dealing with different sections of our diverse society.'
But at the heart of Advani's message was the call for the party to recover the realistic roots of its Vajpayee era political equipoise.
The key manifestation of that posture was the NDA itself-an alliance wide enough to contain a George Fernandes, M Karunanidhi, Parkash Singh Badal, Farooq Abdullah and Naveen Patnaik.
At the heart of any policy based on realism, is pragmatism and not the mindless negativism that we have got from the Surajkund conclave.

Mail Today October 1, 2012

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